Make a Difference with These 10 Random Acts of Kindness

Random Acts of Kindness

 

There are so many small and valuable things we can do to impact the life of another. While some of them are financially bound, others can be simple tasks, such as opening the door for someone. This year challenge yourself to more acts of kindness, random or not.

1. Pay for the person’s food or beverage behind you in line.

2. Write a letter to a soldier.

3. Donate new and used toys to daycares or children’s hospitals.

4. Cook a meal for a family who may be without.

5. Give a good server the largest tip you can afford.

6. Shovel snow or do other yard work for your neighbor.

7. Pick up trash at an area park.

8. Offer assistance to a charitable organization with your time and skills.

9. Bake treats for your area school’s teachers.

10. Visit a nursing home and spend time with the residents.

In addition to being kinder in 2016 you may find yourself becoming happier as well! With so many opportunities to make a difference, this list will help you get started! Add your own acts of kindness and see what you can do to better the lives of others this year.

If you’d like to contribute to others in a financial avenue let us know, we’d love to help! Alpine Bank can assist you in remaining anonymous in donations, arrange monthly transfers, dispense cash for personal giving, and more!

Winter Home Buying

Buying a homeYou’ve made large-scale purchases over the years, but your first home will likely be the largest investment you’ve made to date. It’s a process that raises a number of questions and requires careful strategy as you make the most of your search. Consider these do’s and don’ts of first-time home buying from Alpine Bank to make the most efficient use of your time and funds.

Do:

  • Secure a loan before a home: While the hunt for the first house is exciting, your final decision will depend on the mortgage you can secure. Your first step in the home buying search should take place with a loan officer who can assess whether you qualify for a mortgage, and if so, at what price. This provides a framework guiding the search so you don’t expend time and money on houses outside your means.
  • Take your time: The average homeowner occupies their house for nine years before relocating, so additional time spent thoroughly searching for homes can reap a decade of benefit. Track trends in the housing market to buy during the most cost-effective season. Weigh personal, important factors beyond price listing, such as neighborhood quality, length of commute, and potential for expansion and home improvement.
  • Consult the professionals: The listing agent represents the interests of the seller, not the buyer. As a first-time home buyer, you’ll need as much trusted, unbiased advice as you can garner. Ask friends and family to recommend their real estate agents so you receive counsel from a professional with a track-record of success.

Don’t:

  • Look at homes well over your budget:You set a budget for a reason. Stick to it! Paying more than you designated for a home can financially limit you to update and repair as needed. By spending within your originally determined limit, you’ll avoid heftier mortgages and continue to withhold extra funds for any household incidentals.
  • Empty savings into a down payment: Securing your mortgage requires a down payment. Putting down less than 20% requires you to have mortgage insurance on top of your loan payments. To avoid this added expense, some home buyers drain their savings to cover the down payment upfront. Liquidating your account, however, leaves you without a safety net in the event of job loss or medical emergency. The expense of mortgage insurance is worth the financial cushion you can leave in your account, and you can always eliminate the insurance once you’ve paid off 20% and opt to refinance your mortgage.
  • Speed through the closing: The end is in sight, but don’t let the glow of the finish line obscure your view of the paperwork. Review documents with a fine-tooth comb, double checking that nothing has been altered in your agreement, and ensuring that it describes your understanding of the transaction to a “T”. A day or two of extra analyzing can save you years of headaches!

At Alpine Bank, we offer a number of mortgage options to make securing your home as feasible as possible. To schedule your first meeting with one of our knowledgeable mortgage bankers, give us a call at (815)398-6500.

Helpful tips on paying off Student Loans

Repaying Student LoansIf you’re saddled with both a degree and thousands of dollars of student debt, you’re not alone. More than 70% of Millennial college graduates leave college facing prospects of repaying more than $35,000 in student loans, a feat that can take well over a decade to eliminate. Though it may seem daunting, the financial experts at Alpine Bank recommend the following to repay student loans with minimal stress and maximum efficiency:

  • Choose your loans wisely: Calculate the cost of the necessities – tuition, room and board, textbooks, and transportation – and sign loans that cover only what you need, even if you qualify for more. A part-time job or summer position can provide funds for added nonessential expenses. Your loan might allow you to defer interest payments while you’re still in school. However, unless it’s subsidized, it will accrue interest immediately. Unpaid interest then compounds and adds to the principal, creating an even larger amount to repay. When possible, apply income from a part-time job to pay back a loan’s interest while you’re still in school to save hundreds on repayment when you graduate.
  • Increase your payments: If you’re on a 10-year installment plan, you’re paying a decade of interest on top of your original loan, adding more debt to your plate. When possible, pay back more than the minimum agreement each month and chop off extra time and interest. If you have multiple loans, direct your additional payments towards the loan with the highest interest rate. The faster you can pare down the principal, the less you accrue in exorbitant interest.
  • Make installments as often as you are able: With less time between payments for interest to accumulate, an accelerated payment plan can decrease your repayment term. By doubling your schedule of installments and making more payments over the same time period, you’re able to lessen the interest and pay your loan off sooner.
  • Track your interest: Motivate yourself with a continually updated track record of your current interest. The longer you have the loan, the more money you spend towards interest. Incentivize yourself by creating a cap for how much you want to pay in interest. Let that help guide you to make extra payments per year.

Our loan officers at Alpine Bank are here to help you not only secure the funds you need, but manage them as effectively as possible. Let us know how we can help you navigate your student loans today!

Social Security Changes Eliminate Popular Strategies

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Michele Griepentrog, CFA, CFP, CSSCS, Vice President & Senior Wealth Advisor

Social Security benefits are more confusing and complex than ever. Our Wealth Advisors are certified in Social Security claiming strategies, trained to assess and analyze the trade-offs of your options.

What Has Changed? Enacted into law on November 2, 2015, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 accomplished several key objectives. The new law extended the nation’s debt limit through 2017, established federal spending limits for two years, avoided draconian across-the-board spending cuts (known in Washington-speak as “sequestration”), and sidestepped yet another threat of a U.S. Government shutdown. Also included were reforms to the Social Security Disability Insurance program to prevent impending cuts next year to disabled recipients and avoidance of a 50% increase in Medicare Part B premiums in 2016 for millions of seniors.

With virtually no opportunity for public comment or hearings, the new law also made significant changes to the Social Security program. These changes, which we discuss below, will impact lucrative claiming options used to increase Social Security monthly income for many married couples under current rules. Some popular strategies were eliminated with the passage of the new law and will become effective in 2016.

How Are Married Couples Affected?

“File & Suspend” and “Restricted Application” strategies were eliminated under the new rules. With a few notable exceptions, this change will primarily affect married couples, families and ex-spouses who are eligible to receive benefits on the primary worker’s record.

“File and Suspend” is a popular claiming strategy which allows a married couple to maximize their combined Social Security benefit. It is frequently integrated with a second strategy, “Restricted Application for Spousal Benefits”. This combination permits dual-income married couples to double dip, increasing the cumulative value of their Social Security benefit during retirement. Here’s how it works:

“File & Suspend” allows a worker to file at full retirement age for his or her Social Security benefit based on their own work record and then voluntarily suspend the benefit. When the spouse (usually the lower earner) reaches full retirement age, a “Restricted Application for Spousal Benefits” is then made. Delaying benefits based on their own work record after their full retirement age is rewarded with a permanent increase in their benefit amount called Delayed Retirement Credits (“DRCs”). This allows the spouse to begin receiving unreduced spousal benefits based on the primary worker’s record and also permits the records both spouses to continue to grow through DRCs. DRCs are equal to 8% per year up to the worker’s maximum age 70 under current rules. By age 70, the couple begins receiving their (much higher) Social Security benefit from their own work records as a result of the DRCs. Current Social Security rules allow a worker’s full retirement age benefit to increase by as much a 32% to age 70 as a result of DRCs.

Although not required to wait until full retirement age, applying at or after full retirement age allows couples maximize their combined Social Security benefit. Applying for benefits prior to full retirement age eliminates the best advantages of this strategy due to the deemed filing rule. The deemed filing rule requires an applicant who is applying for benefits before their own full retirement age to take the larger of all benefits they may be entitled to – and eliminates their ability to pick and choose which benefit they want now and which benefit they wish defer to allow to grow until later.

Assuming the couple has reached their full retirement ages, combining a “File & Suspend” application with the “Restricted Application for Spousal Benefits Only” application can provide a significant increase to a couple’s cumulative Social Security benefit over their lifetimes.

Significant Changes to the File & Suspend Rule

The File & Suspend rule was eliminated under the new rules, with a few exceptions.

  • New Rules: Beginning after April 29, 2016 suspending a benefit (the “suspend” of part of a file & suspend application) will now halt all benefits being paid on a worker’s record until the time the worker chooses to begin receiving benefits. This includes all dependents filing for benefits under the worker’s record – spouses, ex-spouses, and benefits paid to the worker’s children. Prior to the new law, current rules allowed dependents to continue benefits under a worker’s record, even if the worker suspended his or her own benefit to collect valuable DRCs past full retirement age.
  • Exception: For those who already have begun a file & suspend strategy by April 29, 2016, nothing changes due to grandfather provisions in the new law.
  • Exception: The new rules allow a 6-month grace period that began November 2, 2015 for couples to act. Clients who are at least full retirement age by April 29, 2016 remain eligible to file & suspend, but must make a file & suspend application with SSA during this 6-month grace period, which ends of April 29, 2016. By doing so, the client leaves the door open allowing the spouse, if eligible, and qualifying children to receive benefits off the client’s record under the old rules – even after the new law becomes effective.

Significant Changes to Deemed Filing & Restricted Spousal Application Rules

  • New Rule: The new law amended the deemed filing rule. Unless the age exception applies, a spouse filing for a spousal benefit after April 29, 2016 will be deemed to be filing for all benefits without limitation. The option of choosing which benefit, including a restricted application for spousal (and ex-spouse) benefits only while their own benefit continues to grow, will no longer be available under the new rules.
  • Exception: Clients age 62 or older on or before December 31, 2015 are grandfathered in under the old restricted application and deemed filing rules, and are not subject to the new expanded deemed filing rules. Through this age exception only, the restriction application for spousal benefits continues to apply.

Michele A. Griepentrog, CFA, CFP, CSSCS is a Vice President & Senior Wealth Advisor at Alpine Trust & Investment Group. She has more than 27 years of investment management experience.

How to Keep a New Year’s Resolution the S.M.A.R.T. Way

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Think fast! What was the last New Year’s Resolution you saw through from start to finish?

Don’t strain yourself racking your brain. 1 in 3 resolution makers ditch their promise by the end of January, so if you’ve struggled maintaining your resolution, you’re not alone. Alpine Bank challenges you to pick a financial goal from the top of your list, and see it through to the end with these S.M.A.R.T. techniques to stay the course.

Specific: Throwing out a flighty “I want to save more money” will end as quickly as it was decided without direction. Be clear with yourself.  Striving to save $5,000 to kick start your emergency savings fund gives you a target to aim for that goes beyond a hopeful thought.

Measurable: Buckling down to accomplish a long-term goal feels awesome. Part of that rush comes from gauging your progress, leading to the big moment when you accomplish your objective. Identifying concrete ways to assess your goal, and structuring simple milestones for success, keep you on track towards your financial target. Know your bank accounts, check them regularly, and strategize the numbers you’re seeing to elevate progress.

Attainable: There are many goals you can put in front of yourself to strive towards a more rewarding financial future. Making sure these goals are attainable ensures you’re working towards a truly possible reality. If you plan on becoming a millionaire in three weeks, you may be in for a letdown.

Realistic: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. If you want to pay off the rest of your mortgage two years ahead of schedule, could you do it? Technically, probably, yes. However, how realistic is that goal when you factor in everything else on your plate? Don’t burn yourself out with a goal that extends your boundaries and comfort too far.

Time-Bound: When life stressors appear, personal goals are the first thing to go. If you’ve given yourself concrete deadlines, skipping out on your financial target becomes much, much harder. Whether that’s a daily timeline, or a date a few months down the road, a time-bound goal helps keep you on track and moving forward.

When the going gets tough, the tough remember their S.M.A.R.T. techniques. Reach out to Alpine Bank if there’s a financial goal we can help you take by the horns in 2016.

 

Working Together: A Bright Future

(Left to Right: Dave Adkins, Blackhawk; Tom Budd, Rockford Bank & Trust; Bill Roop, Alpine Bank; Tom Walsh, Northwest Bank; Ben Barton, Byron Bank.)

(Left to Right: Dave Adkins, Blackhawk Bank; Tom Budd, Rockford Bank & Trust; Bill Roop, Alpine Bank; Tom Walsh, Northwest Bank; Ben Barton, Byron Bank.)

As a bank that believes in the importance of “helping people, businesses and our communities succeed,” when opportunities to help our community achieve economic growth present themselves, they cannot be ignored.

Several months ago it was brought to my attention that, due to the state budget impasse, the construction of Rockford’s new $41 million, 200,000 sq. ft. AAR jet-repair hub was likely coming to a halt in response to the delay in state and federal funding.

Alpine Bank is proud to be a part of a community full of leaders and businessmen and women who are able to put competition aside for the greater good of the region in which we work, live and play. I am fortunate to call many of these leaders my friends and colleagues, and with their help, our community was able to come together to keep this project on track.

A press conference was hosted by the Greater Rockford Airport Authority on Dec. 9, 2015, celebrating the collaboration of Alpine Bank with four other local banks in supplying a $17 million line of credit for the AAR project to ensure that it is completed on time, in the fall of 2016.

I would like to extend a thank you to Northwest Bank, Blackhawk Bank, Byron Bank, and Rockford Bank & Trust. With your help, we’ve been able to ensure that our community will have the opportunity to reap the benefits of this state of the art maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility, including more than 500 new, well-paying jobs that promise to result in an insurmountable economic impact.

We stepped up to the plate because we truly believe in our people, our businesses and our communities – and for good reason. From local banks, to the hard-working forces behind the Greater Rockford Airport Authority, to our local taxing bodies, we all have one thing in common; the future is bright. Let’s go together.

Bill Roop, President and CEO

Giving Back this Holiday

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In the hoopla surrounding the holidays, “it’s better to give than to receive” can sometimes take a seat on the back burner. While you’re trimming the tree or cozied up next to loved ones around the table, others are experiencing a much different celebration season. Medical conditions, job loss, and other unforeseen circumstances can limit an individual or family’s ability to experience December festivities – and that’s where you can step in to spread cheer.

This season, scope out opportunities in the community for you and your family to lend a hand. At Alpine Bank and Trust, we suggest looking into some of these possibilities to add holiday magic into the lives of neighbors in need:

  1. Make food and dish it out- cookies and casseroles can be great gifts this time of year. You can provide them for those who don’t have the means or are short on food, as well as to firefighters, police officers and other public servants.
  2. Pack stockings for the homeless- pick out some cheap stockings and fill them with practical items. These can range from food and drink (granola bars, bottles of water, etc.) to gloves, socks and hygiene items.
  3. Donate old toys- kids’ toys and games can get pricey in a hurry. Purge your kids’ toys to donate to kids who aren’t as fortunate.
  4. Pay a visit to a local nursing home- the holidays can be tough times for elderly people living in nursing homes. A small visit or gift from a stranger could brighten their day, or even make their entire week.
  5. “Adopt” a family- there are many ways you can support families in our community. A food pantry would be a good place to start to find out about families in need and support them throughout the winter, the toughest time for families in need.
  6. Donate to a food bank- winter, especially in our area, is a difficult part of the year; it is far worse if you don’t have enough food. Food banks and food pantries could put your donation to good use.
  7. Have family members make a donation in your name- replace one thing on your Christmas list with the wish that in lieu of a present, a donation is made in your name to the charity of your choice.

Which of these opportunities strikes a chord in you?

As you go throughout the usual chores and activities of the holidays, remember to think of those who aren’t as fortunate as yourself. Our community is only as strong as we make it, so let’s work together to strengthen and uplift those who need it most.

Alpine Bank and Trust, Equal Housing Lender, Member FDIC

 

Teaching Holiday Spending to Kids

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“Holiday season” can mean totally different things for you and your child. While visions of Sugar Plums dance in their head, those visions are replaced with dollar signs in yours as you mentally tally the cost of the most magical time of year.

Find common ground by using this season to show your kids about tracking, saving, and giving money with these pointers from Alpine Bank and Trust:

  • Create a budget: Squeeze the most magic out of the holidays by creating a battle plan. Let the kids listen as you and your partner settle on a budget for the month, breaking it down into categories like food, gifts, parties, and decorations. Once they understand how their parents create a budget, turn them loose to make one of their own, allotting a dollar amount on gifts for each person on their list.
  • Get crafty with gifts: If you haven’t been accumulating gifts as they’re on sale throughout the year, your wallet can take a serious hit when prices spike during the holidays. Try your hand at homemade gifts, ranging from thoughtful cards to favorite family recipes, most of which can be created with supplies lying around the home or purchased for cheap. Your kids benefit when they unleash their creativity and see the thoughtful effort of a gift crafted by hand.
  • Shop smarter: Don’t leave your kids in the dark with the money you plan to spend. When you head to the store, be upfront about how much you plan to spend on what purchases and why. With that knowledge in mind, they can help you spot sales as you cruise the aisles. Turn your shopping adventure into a game by challenging them to find the best deal or most creative alternative, and pay with cash to give them practice counting money and deducting coupons.
  • Give, give, give: It’s better to give than to receive, and the holidays are the perfect opportunity to show your kids this principle in action. Explain that other families may not be in the same financial boat as you, and build on this lesson in empathy by choosing an organization like Toys for Tots or Operation Christmas Child to purchase gifts for a child in need. Have your child help pick out and deliver the purchase to experience the joy of giving firsthand.

Make the holidays not only the most wonderful time of year for you and your children, but the most frugal. Alpine Bank and Trust is always here to help your family make the most of your financials to start you strong in the New Year!

Alpine Bank, Equal Housing Lender, Member FDIC

Avoid Cyber Monsters During Cyber Security Month

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Goblins and ghouls may rule October, but there is a scarier threat out there than kids in costumes. Cyberattacks have the potential to throw a wrench to both your finances and your life.

October is Cyber Security Month, so there is no better time to assess your cyber security vulnerabilities than now. Whether you are lacking in protecting your home or laptop computer, or you just need to be more aware of what systems pose a threat, the following tips can help you stay more secure.

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Betsy Pierson Joins Alpine Trust & Investment Group

BPierson_09.15Julie O’Rourke, Executive Vice President and Senior Trust & Investment Officer, is pleased to welcome Elizabeth “Betsy” Pierson, Senior Vice President & Chief Investment Officer, to Alpine Trust & Investment Group.

Ms. Pierson joined Alpine Trust & Investment Group earlier this month.  She is responsible for overall investment strategy, as well as client relationships.

Ms. Pierson has been involved with the investment process, asset allocation and strategy decisions for over three decades.  She has worked alongside institutional and high net worth clients to help them achieve their long-term financial goals.  In addition, she has extensive knowledge in the fixed-income area, having managed bond mutual funds and a fixed-income collective investment trust fund for employee benefit plans.

She graduated from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana with a Bachelor of Science in Finance.  She attained her Chartered Financial Analyst designation, in 1991.

She has served on non-profit boards in the past and is looking forward to more opportunities to serve the community.